All are welcome at Christ Church. Whether you are a first-timer or a long-time parishioner, a newcomer, a visitor, a seeker, or you are returning to Christ Church, everyone has a place at Christ’s table. Whoever you are, or wherever you may be in your stage of life or phase of your spiritual journey, we hope you will come worship with us.

We care for each other because we believe no one is beyond the reach of God. The resources of God’s love are available to all throughout our lives. We participate in many different ministries that help us grow in faith and service. 

Christ United Methodist Church, with a membership of over 600, continues to grow and change to meet the needs of the congregation and community. Our church draws strength from the past, and courageously plans for the future in order to respond to the needs of life in the contemporary world.

  • Confront Troubles With Confidence

    Having Troubles?  Confront Them With Confidence
    2 Chronicles 20:15-23

    Last week we began a sermon series looking at the story of King Jehoshaphat, who found himself in big trouble one day … in spite of the fact that he had always tried to do what was right and was always helping people.

    Jehoshaphat was the King of Judah, and while he was trying to build a stronger, safer, and more god-honoring Judah, several of his enemies formed an alliance to take it all away from him. We saw that last week.

    “The armies of the Moabites, Ammonites, and some of the Meunites declared war on Jehoshaphat. Messengers came and told him, "A vast army from Edom is marching against you from beyond the Dead Sea."

    What was Jehoshaphat's response? He was terrified. Their combined armies were much stronger than his, and he didn't know what to do about it. So what did he do? Panic? Wave the white flag? No. The Bible says, "He begged the Lord for guidance." The KJV says, "He set himself to seek the Lord."

    And so as we saw last week, he prayed, he fasted, he listened, he trusted, he worshipped. Simply put, he surrendered himself to God.  And how did God respond to Jehoshaphat's prayers?  He said, "Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be afraid. This is my fight, not yours. Trust me."

    If you're looking at your life today and thinking, "Here comes trouble," I want you to know … whatever it is you’re facing … God can get you through it. And if you let him, in the process, he’ll bring you closer to him than you ever were before.
    Now the end of this story says in verse 30 ... “Jehoshaphat's kingdom was at peace. God had given him rest on every side.”  The thing is, I don’t believe that would’ve been the outcome if Jehoshaphat hadn’t place his trust and obedience in God.

    I believe that Jehoshaphat experienced God's blessings because, instead of giving up, instead of running away, instead of fighting in his own strength, he confidently confronted the trouble determined to seek the face of God.

    Now, let's pick up again with the story. The men of Judah had all come together and a prophet began to speak to them.  He says" Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Don’t be discouraged.  Don't be afraid of this mighty army … for the battle isn’t yours, but God's.

    “Tomorrow, march out against them.  But you’ll not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord's victory. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!"

    Did you get that? He said, "I want you to go to where your enemies are, take your positions for battle, and then let me do the rest."

    You see, the point of today's message is that God will not leave you to fight your battles alone.  You can trust him to go before you and prepare the way.
    But we do have to show up.  We do have to have enough faith to do what God says to do.

    You see, this story helps us to see some things that we can do to help us achieve the victory.  First of all, we need to be willing to Confront Our Problems Head On.

    When Jehoshaphat cried out to God for help, God could have said, "Hey, there's an army gathered against you in the wilderness, but don't worry about it. Just stay where you are. It's taken care of."  He could have said that, but he didn't -- because that’s not how God tends to work.

    Trusting God to solve your problems doesn't mean that you can just ignore your problems, or avoid your problems, or pretend like they don't exist. Instead, God wants you to meet your problems head on.

    Now, think about a problem you may be facing. What do you need to do in order to confront it?  Remember, you don't need to fight it in your own strength … God’s already promised to engage the enemy with you … but you do need to be willing to confront the problem head on.

    You may not have the wherewithal to solve your health problems or your marital problems or your financial problems -- but you can stand up to them. You can take your position, just as God told Jehoshaphat to do, so that God can do miraculous things in your life.

    It's been said many times, "Eighty percent of success is simply showing up." You know what? I think that applies to the way we face problems too.  A big part of success tends to be having the courage to face the problem head on.

    When you're willing to stand up to the enemy face to face, you unleash the power of God in your life.  So, if you find yourself thinking, "here comes trouble," the answer isn’t to panic or to run; the answer is to confidently confront it.

    Here's the next thing I want you to notice.
    Once you’ve decided to confidently confront your problem, the second part of experiencing the victory is to be willing to Take Immediate Action.   Listen to what God say to Jehoshaphat. He says, "Go out against your enemies tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!"

    So what did they do?  Verse 20 says, “Early the next morning the army of Judah went out into the wilderness to face their enemies.”  In other words, they didn’t hesitate to move forward. They didn't put it off.  They immediately stepped up to the plate!

    You know what?  Many times when we're up against problems, and we know we have to confront them face to face, we try to put it off as long as we can.  But it’s been said, "Where there’s a hill to climb, don't think that waiting will make it any smaller."

    The Apostle Paul reminds us of the same thing in 2 Corinthians 6:2.  He says,  “Indeed, the "right time" is now. Today is the day of salvation.”

    Right now you can begin taking steps to move your problems out of the way. Even if they're tiny little baby steps, even if they seem really insignificant, you can begin taking those steps, and I can promise you two things: God will notice, and God will show up!

    Often times we see this vast army before us, and we think, "There’s nothing     I can do right now, so I'll just do nothing at all. I can't solve this problem today, so I'll put it off a little while longer."  We develop a "what's the use" attitude.

    But if Jehoshaphat and his army had done that, they never would have faced their enemies and they never would have experienced the victory.
    Notice how God told the army to move into position right away.  He said, "I’ll be with you, I’ll protect you, I’ll fight for you, I’ll give you victory ... but you have to be willing to move forward so that I can begin to bless you."

    Could it be that God is telling us we need to be willing to face our problems, and we need to be willing to move forward now.  The third part of confronting the enemy with confidence is that we need to Stay Focused On God.

    The Bible says, “After consulting the people, the king appointed singers to walk ahead of the army, singing to the Lord and praising him for his holy splendor. This is what they sang: 
"Give thanks to the Lord; his faithful love endures forever!"
    And then what does the Bible say?  “At the very moment they began to sing and give praise, the Lord caused the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir to start fighting among themselves.  Did you get that? At the very moment they began to sing and give praise, the enemy self-destructed.

    Last week we talked about how praise and worship are an important part of seeking God.  Worship and praise are also an important part of confronting your problems, and they're crucial to experiencing the victory.

    I'm convinced that far too often we focus too much on our problems.  We talk about the strength of the enemy. We talk about how bad things are. We list in order all of the difficulties we face.

    Now as I said earlier, we can't ignore them. We can't pretend like they don't exist. But let me make something clear. There's a big difference between confronting your problems and just talking about them!   Look at what Jehoshaphat says to the people.
    "Listen to me, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be able to stand firm. Believe in what he says, and you will succeed."

    When we talk about our problems nonstop, without ever doing anything about them, they only grow in stature.  They become our focus.  But when we shift our focus from how big the problem is … to how big God is, things begin to change.  We begin to find the courage and strength to confront them!

    As you approach the enemies that have aligned themselves against you, stand firm in the faith and stay focused on God.

    In this story we see how the army of Judah began to move forward with its focus on God, and, as a result, they never had to enter the fight. God fought the battle for them. And the same can be true for us today as well.

    Jehoshaphat's story can become our story. When you've got armies lined up against you, and problems surrounding you, you can experience God's victory. How? The same way Jehoshaphat did!

    By faith confront your problems head on, by faith begin to move forward step by step, and by faith, stay focused on the amazing power of God that can give you the victory. Ultimately, the battle doesn't belong to you. It belongs to God.  And trust me, no enemy you may face is any bigger or any stronger!

    No matter what the battle you may be fighting today, know that the words of the prophet Zechariah are sure and true.  Victory comes … “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,' Says the Lord of hosts.”

    The question is, do we have enough courage to give the problem over to him?

  • Get Real With God

    Facing Troubles: Get Real with God
    2 Chronicles 20:1-19

    Bible stories are at the heart of our faith. The Bible’s full of them. As we read and hear those stories we catch a glimpse of God. We get a look into his nature and character. And this is nowhere more true than in the Gospels!

    In the stories of Jesus we see the heart of God. There’s so much to be learned!
    But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the rest of the stories found in the Bible. They’re all there for our benefit and learning. And that’s true not only of the New Testament … but the old as well!

    And so for the next few weeks we'll be looking at an Old Testament story about a king … by the name of Jehoshaphat. If you've ever watched cartoons, you've heard his name: Jumping Jehoshaphat. I think it was Yosemite Sam who used to say it. But that phrase has nothing to do with this story.

    Jehoshaphat was the king of Judah back when Judah and Israel were divided kingdoms. This was around 900 BC. And the Bible says that Jehoshaphat was a good king. He wasn't perfect, he made some mistakes, he needed to be corrected a time or two, but he was a good king, and a good leader, as we'll see in this story.

    The reason why this story is so interesting is because Jehoshaphat found himself in the same kind of situation that so many of us find ourselves in from time to time. And this story shows us how Jehoshaphat was able to get out of it. If you've ever had to face trouble in your life, I think you'll like this series.

    So, what was Jehoshaphat's situation? Let's take a quick look at his story.
    In the events leading up today's story, we see that Jehosaphat had been an effective king. If you were to go back and look at his accomplishments, you’d see that he was an honest man with good motives, making a sincere effort to do his job well.

    But then the King faced on of the biggest challenges of this time. The Bible says, “The armies of the Moabites, Ammonites, and some of the Meunites declared war on Jehoshaphat. Messengers told Jehoshaphat, "A vast army from Edom is marching against you from beyond the Dead Sea."

    Do you know what they were saying? They were saying, "King, here comes trouble." It's bad enough when you have to go to war against one enemy, but Jehoshaphat had three coming at him at the same time. They had formed an alliance with the sole purpose of conquering his kingdom, enslaving his people, and taking control of his land.

    Anything like this ever happen to you? Have you ever felt like you were doing the best you could, when all of a sudden it seemed like all your enemies and every negative thing in the world began to work against you? If so, there’s a good chance that your response was probably a lot like Jehoshaphat's.

    The Bible says he was "terrified." He was scared stiff. He knew he was in over his head. His exact words were, "We are powerless against this mighty army that is about to attack us. I don’t know what to do..."

    Have you ever felt this way? “I don't have the ability, or the resources, or the power, or the wisdom or the wherewithal to solve this problem. I’m powerless and I don't know what to do."

    That's where Jehoshaphat was as he faced this attack from multiple enemies. But in his story he learned something about how to experience the power of God. If you're facing attacks from all sides, then, just like King Jehoshaphat, you're a perfect candidate to experience the power of God in your life.

    In today's message we'll focus on some things we can do when trouble strikes. And the bottom line is that that’s when we need to get Get Real With God.

    That’s when we need to be open and honest with God … to put away all the pride and arrogance that so often times keeps God at a distance. That’s when we need to really begin to seek the face of God! Now back to the story.

    As I mentioned, when Jehoshaphat heard that three armies had united to attack him, his immediate reaction was to be terrified. But then verse 3 tells us, “Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the Lord for guidance.”

    The King James Version says, “Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord.” Which leads us to one of the ways to get real with God. Getting Real with God Involves Transparency.

    Transparency means that we do away with the King James sounding prayers, and we stop reminding God of how lucky he is to have us on his team, and we quit trying to impress everyone with our religious deeds and we get honest and say, "God, I'm helpless. I need you."

    The good news is that you can pray this prayer anytime you need to. You can be completely honest with God. You don't have to play games. You don't have to pretend that everything’s OK, when really it’s not. You can say, like Jehoshaphat, "God, I'm afraid. This is too big for me to handle on my own and I don't know what to do."
    You can tell God everything you're going through. The important thing is that you spend time in his presence. The more time you spend in the presence of God, the closer you get to his power. Look again at Jehoshaphat’s prayer.

    Facing such insurmountable trouble, he prayed, “Whenever we’re faced with any calamity, we can come to stand in your presence. We can cry out to you to save us, and you will hear us and rescue us."

    Getting real with God begins with spending time in his presence, standing before him, pouring out your heart openly and honestly. If you’re facing trouble, you begin by being transparent before God.

    The second thing I want you to see is that Getting Real with God Involves Doing Our Part. Getting real with God involves some level of personal sacrifice. We need to be willing to do our part, small as it may be, so that God can do his part, which is greater than we can ask or imagine."

    Notice how Jehoshaphat didn’t just sit back and wait idly for God to rescue him. Not only dis he begin to seek the Lord, he also invited the entire nation to seek God with him.

    The Bible says, “He ordered everyone in Judah to begin fasting. People from all the towns of Judah came to Jerusalem to seek the Lord's help.”

    You see, there's something about fasting that pleases God. There's something about fasting that gets his attention and causes God to move in our direction. If you want to get serious about seeking God, give serious consideration to the idea of prayer and fasting.

    There are lots of ways to do that. For example, you can refrain from food for a certain period of time. You can also fast from other things, such as TV, or video games, or the Internet. By doing that, you're saying, "God, I'm moving this out of life right now so that I can create more room in my life for you."

    Getting real with God involves giving of yourself. It requires sacrifice. It's not that you're earning God's favor, it's that you're demonstrating to him and to yourself and to everyone else that this is important … that you mean business.

    Here's the third thing. Getting Real with God Also Involves Listening.
    In this story we see that after the people of Judah poured out their hearts in God's presence, after they called on him for help and came before him in prayer and fasting, God began to speak to them.

    The Bible says, “As the men of Judah stood before the Lord, the Spirit of
    the Lord came upon one of the men standing there. He said, "Listen King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don't be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God's.”

    Here's something you can count on. After a season of getting real with God, God will begin to speak.

    Maybe it’ll come from the words of the Bible, maybe it’ll from the words of a sermon, maybe it’ll come from the words of a trusted, maybe it’ll come from an inner witness in your spirit ... but there will come a time when you realize that God is speaking … that is … if you're listening.

    God can speak to you through all kinds of situations. Getting real with God involves listening. It involves being attentive to his voice. He’s not hiding from you and he doesn’t remain silent. He will speak … if you will listen.
    Here's the fourth thing I want you to see. Getting Real with God Involves Trust. In our text, when God began speaking to his people, what did he say to them? Listen to his message.

    It says, "Don’t be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow,
    for the Lord is with you!" Basically God is saying to them, "Trust me. This isn't your battle. It's mine. So don't be afraid and don't be discouraged."
    He says, "Tomorrow I want you to go and face this army.”

    You know, there are going to be times when we don't have all the details, we don't know exactly how God is going to work through a situation, and we don't need to know. We just need to trust him and do what he says.

    When you get real with God, there comes a time when you draw your line in the sand and say, "I may not know what God is up to, but I choose to trust him. I refuse to give in to doubt or fear or despair or discouragement. I trust him enough to do what he asks me to do."

    There's an unbreakable connection between trust and obedience. If you're struggling with obedience, it might be because you haven't yet settled the trust question. Getting real with God involves a conscious choice to trust.

    One thing more to see ... Getting Real with God involves Gratitude.

    Verse 13 tell us, “Then the King bowed low with his face to the ground. And all the people of Judah and Jerusalem did the same, worshiping the Lord.”

    Notice when they offered thanksgiving and praise, It was before the battle was ever fought. You see, there’s an expectant nature to Gratitude and Praise … don’t wait till the battle’s over to worship and honor God with your praise.
    As we’ll see in the coming weeks, God came through for Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah. He saved them from their enemies and he blessed their nation. It happened because Jehoshaphat took the time to get real with God.

    He set himself up to seek God. He prayed, he fasted, he listened, he trusted, he worshipped. Now if you could summarize these five words in one word, it’d be the word surrender. In the face of an oncoming enemy, Jehoshaphat surrendered himself to God to win the victory. And it’ll work the same for us.

    Facing Troubles? Then get real with God … surrender all that you have and all that you are to him … that’s how to with the battle.

  • It Takes Power

    Acts 1:1-11

    After Jesus was raised from the dead on the first Easter morning, and before he ascended into heaven to go to prepare a place for us, Jesus spent 40 days walking and talking and eating with his disciples. It must have been amazing to have been there!

    This morning I’d like us to focus specifically on the last words that Jesus shared with his disciples. Obviously they are important words -- essential for every believer to hear, because without receiving the promise that Jesus gave his followers that day, we simply can’t successfully live the Christian life.

    You know what happened after the death of Jesus. His followers scattered and abandoned him. Judas betrayed him, then took his own life. Peter denied ever having known him. The others just ran away … all except for John.

    They then locked themselves behind closed doors in an attempt to escape the same fate that Jesus had received. They began considering how they might pick up the pieces of their lives, and they were wondering if they could possibly, one day, make sense of all that had happened.

    But then, after having all but given up, the unthinkable happened. Mary Magdalene came to where they were and said, "I’ve just seen the Lord. He’s alive!" Peter ran to the tomb to see for himself ... But wasn't there.

    Later that day Jesus did appear to his disciples, in the flesh. They heard him speak. They saw his scars. They ate fish with him. And they finally believed that he was who he claimed to be: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Messiah.

    Eventually, Jesus gave them what we now call the Great Commission. It was a seemingly impossible task. He said that they were to become his witnesses all throughout the world! He was telling a ragtag team of misfits, quitters, and underachievers to go out and change the world.

    Jesus certainly knew how big of a task this was and how ill-equipped the disciples were to carry it out. He knew they didn't have it in them to pull it off all on their own. They needed something more. They needed someone more.

    And so after Jesus spoke to them about their new global mission, he had one more thing to say to them. And it’d be the very last words they would hear him speak. Here's exactly what he said to them.

    "I’m going to send to you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. Wait for the gift my Father has promised, which you’ve heard me speak about.

    For John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

    Power, he said. Clothed with power on high. You will receive power. That word power in the Greek is dunamis -- it's where we get the word dynamite. And that's the kind of power that Jesus promised his followers: back then and us today. And so, today I want to talk to you about experiencing this power from on high.

    To begin, when we think about receiving Power from on high, it’s important to understand that ... Knowledge Alone Is Not Enough.
    It's not enough just to know the facts. To receive power from on high, it takes more than that! You see, it's not enough just to have knowledge of the Bible. It's not enough to just be able to recite the Apostle's Creed. These things are good, but they're not enough. If it were, Jesus could have said to the disciples:

    "OK, look. You've been with me three years. You've heard my teaching and you've learned it well. You've seen the miracles. You know what I can do. And now you've seen me raised from the dead. So now based on that knowledge, it should be enough for you to go out and turn the world upside down."

    But that's not what Jesus said … because he knew that merely knowing the facts in your head isn’t enough to get the job done. You need more than just knowledge to get through life. You need power. Dunamis. Dynamite.

    Which brings me to the next thing about receiving power from on high. And that is … Without God's Power, Life Eventually Unravels. Our lack of power, and our desperate need for power, will eventually become obvious.

    That's what happened to the disciples. They discovered what they were truly capable of on their own. On their own, they were quitters. On their own, they were cowards. On their own, they were betrayers and abandoners and deniers.

    It was obvious they needed something greater than what they had. That's why, when Jesus said, "you will be clothed with power from on high," not one of them spoke up and said, "Ah, no thanks, Lord. I'm good. I'll be fine without it." They knew they really needed it.

    And friends, every follower of Jesus Christ will eventually come to this place, realizing that we just don’t have what it takes on our own. Like the disciples, we need more! We need power from above.
    You see, we were created to live in God, connected to him, in relationship to him -- even dependent upon him. When we try to live any other way -- when we try to disconnect from him and live life on our own -- we inevitably come to the end of ourselves. Without God's power, life eventually unravels.

    That’s why it’s so important to realize that God's Power Is Available To Every Believer. Verse 8 says, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

    That’s what Jesus promised his followers and it's exactly what happened. Just a few days later, the disciples received amazing power from God! And the great thing is, that same promise is yours and mine to receive. We all need it, and the good news is, God wants to give it to us!

    And so, in the time we have remaining, I want to talk to you about what's involved in receiving this power from on high.

    First of all, I want you to understand that Receiving Power from God Most Always Involves Waiting. Notice what Jesus told his followers: “Stay in the city until you’ve been clothed with power from on high. Wait for the gift my Father has promised.

    The problem is, waiting runs contrary to our nature. Our attitude tends to be, There's no time to wait. I need it now. I want it now. Why can't I have it now? Why can't I do it now? Why should I have to wait one more minute? Why?

    Get ready, because I'm about to say something very profound. We have to wait … because it's God's way. But I want you to understand that waiting on God isn’t the same as waiting on another person.
    When we wait on another person, it's typically because we're waiting for that person to get ready … and they’re holding us up! That's not the way it is with God. When you're waiting on God, it's not because God isn't ready … it's because we’re not ready. That’s why we need to wait on God .

    But waiting on God doesn't mean sitting around and doing nothing. It means using our time to get ready for what God has in store for us. It means doing everything we can to put ourselves in a position to receive power from on high. And that pretty much means … actively seeking God.

    Here's something else … Know that God's Power Is Always Related to God's Purpose. Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

    God wants to use you in such a way that others will come to experience his love and grace. He wants to use you in such a way that your life is a testimony to his greatness, his goodness, his mercy, his compassion and his overwhelming love.

    When we receive Jesus into our life, we become a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, and God's purpose for us is that we become a productive citizen. That means that in our work and our relationships and our activities we’re to be touching lives and making a difference in the name of Jesus.

    And so in that sense … God's power isn’t just for our benefit. It's also for the benefit of others. We will be clothed with power from on high, so that we can make a difference in this world! We can our Make a Mark for Christ!

    Now some of you may be thinking: Me? Change the world? I can barely get through the day!
    And how can we as a church expand our ministry when there’s so much yet to get done? How’s that possible? Well friends, It's only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.

    If you need more of God's power, then decide today that you’ll actively seek him and wait expectantly for him, preparing yourself in every way possible, so that you’ll be in a position for him to move in your life..
    Throughout this series I have said again and again that you can’t make your mark on the world until God has made his mark on you. This is how he does it -- through the power of the Holy Spirit.
    So here's the Make-Your-Mark principle for this week: Ask God to fill
    you with the power of the Holy Spirit … so that you can truly make a difference for Jesus in the lives of other people. That’s how we change the world!!

  • Life Without Barriers

    Life Without Barriers
    Acts 10:34-48

    This morning we’re going to take a look at a text that marks a defining moment in the history of the church. What happened in today's story took this fledgling Jesus Movement in a whole new direction. What began as a sect of Judaism was now to become what we know as the Christian faith.
    You could say that Acts 10 shows us that this Jesus Movement wasn’t intended to be just a simple movement in a small Jerusalem neighborhood, … but that it was to become a community of believers that would ultimately span the entire world!
    And so I think Acts 10 boldly challenges us to move beyond the small-minded limited thinking of mere mortals … and move toward the all-encompassing, unlimited thinking of God.
    We're in a series called Make Your Mark. We've been talking about how we as individuals and we as a church can make a difference on the world around us. Today we're going to talk about living a life without boundries … by developing a "without borders" philosophy of ministry.
    Now as this morning’s story picks up, Peter was praying on the roof of a house when he had a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven. And it contained all kinds of four-footed animals, reptiles and birds. In other words, they were animals that were forbidden in the Jewish diet.
    Then a voice spoke to him: "Peter, kill and eat." Peter said, "Absolutely not! I’ve never eaten anything unclean and I never will." But the voice spoke again, "Don’t call anything impure that God has made clean."
    This happened three times, and then there was a knock at the door. Three men had come to invite Peter to visit the home of a devout Gentile named Cornelius, who wanted to hear about Jesus.
    For many reasons, Jews weren't allowed to enter the home of a Gentile. They would have considered it to be ritually unclean. And they especially weren't allowed to eat with Gentiles.
    Peter realized of course, there was a connection between the vision he just had and the invitation he had just received, so he agreed to visit Cornelius. When he got there, he told Cornelius about Jesus and how to be saved.
    At that moment, Acts tells us that all heaven broke loose in Cornelius' house. The Holy Spirit filled Cornelius and his Gentile friends, and they began speaking in tongues and praising God.
    Peter said, "These men have received the Holy Spirit just as we did on the day of Pentecost. Clearly, God is behind this. Let's baptize them all in the name of Jesus." And that's what they did.
    Now that may seem like just another simple conversion story … but it's so much more than that.
    You see, in the next chapter, Acts 11, Peter had to answer to the other apostles for his actions, because he had done a very unorthodox thing in going to the home of a gentile -- even eating with a gentile -- and then, of all things, allowing that gentile to become part of the Christian fellowship without first converting him to Judaism.
    But after hearing Peter's story, the church leaders agreed that, yes, this is indeed a move of a God, and we need to get on board with it.
    At that moment, the Christian church became a church without bariers and a ministry without boarders. They were now ready to truly fulfill the great commission that Jesus had given them in Matthew 28.
    “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

    That's what Jesus has in mind for his followers, and that's where we need to pay close attention. Today, I want us to talk about living a life without boundaries. As we do that, there are three things I want us to see.

    First of all, We Have the Tendency to Look For the Things That Separate us … While God Tends to Focus on the Things That Bring Us Together.

    Certainly racism was at work in the first century mindset and culture. The idea among many first century Jews was that they were better than non-Jews. They thought non-Jews were dirty, immoral, barbaric and uncouth.

    You see, there was this idea that Jews, simply by virtue of them being Jews, were favored by God … and that gentiles, simply by them being gentiles, were (to put lightly) less than favored by God, … if not completely despised.

    There's an ancient prayer that devout Jewish men would recite each day:
    Blessed are you, O God, King of the Universe, for not having made me a Gentile. Blessed are you, O God, King of the Universe, for not having made me a slave. Blessed are you, O God, King of the Universe, for not having made me a woman.
    They believed that, as Jewish men, they were a little better -- a little more favored -- than everyone else.
    But, as we might imagine, that attitude wasn't just a Jewish problem. Just like the Jews, many of the surrounding nations considered themselves far better than the Jews in every way
    But the message of the gospel, and the goal of the church, is that we’re not separated according to “us and them,” … but that we are one in Christ. There is no us and them. There’s only we.
    Paul tells us in Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
    So one of the things we can see from the story in Acts 10 is that while we tend to look for the things that separate us, God’s focuses on the things that bring us together.

    That’s the way we as a church need to do church, and that’s the way we as individuals need to treat each other … with an attitude that says, "I’m no better than any one else; we're all sinners in the eyes of God."
    Here's a second observation from today’s story: We Tend to Try to Box God In … While God Refuses to Be Boxed In By Anyone.
    You see, there were many first century Christians who could quote for you, chapter and verse, why you had to follow the Old Testament diet and its rituals and customs. And they had Scripture to back it up.

    The thing is, we don’t adhere to those demands and restrictions today because we understand that they were cultural and relegated to that specific time and place. In other words, they were contextual.

    A good example is that we no longer adhere to the old Jewish system of offering animal sacrifices. Instead we interpret offering sacrifices through the lens of them being spiritual sacrifices rather than physical ones. Neither do we stone someone caught in adultery!

    Even David realized this as he declared to God in Psalm 51, “You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering.
    The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, OGod.”

    You see friends, not a single one of us can understand the entirety of God. God has chosen to reveal himself in scripture, but not a single one of us can understand the entirety of scripture either. The Apostle Paul reminds us that we now see in a glass dimly … until we see God face to face.

    Yet, sometimes we try to define God according to a list of laws and attributes. We try to reduce him to a concept that we can wrap our heads around, so that we can understand him. We imply that we understand God in all of his fullness. How foolish … and arrogant on our part!

    Here's the problem. If you can put God in a box, if you can fully understand Him, then you’re not referring to the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. That God is too big and too far beyond what we could ever fully understand. That’s what makes Him God!

    But there were those in the first century who were confident that God would never give the Holy Spirit to Gentiles. But what they didn’t realize was that God decided to do something outside the box of their limited understanding -- something far bigger than they could ever have imagined.

    Here's what I'm getting at. God has revealed himself to us in Scripture, and he's even revealed to us much about his plan for human history. But we don't know all that there is to know about God … and we will this side of Heaven.

    The Prophet Isaiah reminds us of that reality in chapter 55 as he says on behalf of God, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD."

    If your God fits in a box and is able to be fully understood … then your God’s just too small.

    Which brings us to the third thing I want us to see. And that’s While We Tend to Ask God to Bless Our Plans … Most Times God Is Trying to Get Us to Get On Board With His.

    You see, I believe that God has a plan for the church. There were some in the early days whose attitude was, "Let's just keep this thing local. Let's keep our ties to Judaism, and let's ask God to bless our little group right here, where we are … and let's not try to take it any further than that."

    But God had a different plan. His plan was that the church of Jesus Christ would carry the message of the gospel throughout the world and throughout history, crossing all boundaries and breaking all barriers, so that anyone could experience new life in Jesus Christ.

    After the events of today's story, when the Gentile household was saved, baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, the leaders of the church faced a choice: resist what God was doing, or get on board and follow God’s lead.

    And, they made the right choice. They got on board and followed God’s lead.
    I believe every church and every believer will sometime face a similar choice: Are we going to do this our way, or are we going to do this God's way?

    Are we asking God to get on board with our plans, or are we seeking God so that we can know his plan and follow where he’s trying to lead us?

    God says in Isaiah 43, "See, I’m doing a new thing! It’s springing up; don’t you see it? I’m making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."

    There's one thing we can be sure of. The plans we make for ourselves are no match for the plans that God has for us -- as a church and as individuals.

    God is calling us to live a life without boundaries:
    To break down the barriers that separate us from Him,
    To break down the barriers that separate us from each other, and …
    To break down the barriers that separate us from those he’s called us to serve.

    If we can do that, trust me, if we can do that, there’ll be no limit to where we can go, what we can do, and who we’ll be able to reach for the glory of Jesus Christ! Let’s make that our prayer and our goal as we move forward!

  • It's All About Jesus

    It’s All About Jesus
    Acts 4: 1-12

    Recently there has been a Christian mini-series on television by the name of A.D. It’s the story of the Christian faith beginning with the resurrection of Jesus. It pretty much covers the book of Acts and the birth of the church.

    The story behind the series is interesting. It was developed by a married couple by the name of named Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. Mark made his mark in Hollywood producing reality shows. Roma is an actress most well known as Monica on Touched by an Angel.

    Both are Christians, and so they began to dream about producing a series that would teach the story of the Bible from start to finish -- from Genesis to Revelation. They spent some time developing this idea until they were ready to shop it around to various studios and production companies.

    Most studios didn’t show much interest. But then one gave a counter offer. They said, "You just might have something there. Is there any way you could tell the story without mentioning Jesus?" Their response was, "Sorry. That's not possible. The story … it’s all about Jesus."

    Frank Peretti is a popular Christian fiction writer. His first few books sold millions of copies in the Christian marketplace -- to the extent that a secular publisher offered him a contract to publish and market his next book.

    As he was working on the new book, his new publisher began to make some suggestions. One of the editors said, "I understand you want to write about spiritual matters … but do you have to mention Jesus? Can't you just refer to God? Isn't that the same thing?" His answer … but it’s all about Jesus!
    I think this attitude reflects the times we live in. It's okay, for the most part, to talk about God -- as long as you keep it vague. When you begin to talk specifically about Jesus, people get a little squeamish. And yet there’s something about Jesus that draws people to him. Why then are we so hesitant?

    Over the last few weeks we’ve been in a sermon series called “Make Your Mark.” We've been talking about how we as Christians can make a real difference in our world. We've been looking at stories in the book of Acts, where we can learn from the example of the early church.

    If anyone made a difference in the world, was the early church. After the death of Jesus all the disciples scattered and it looked like this fledgling group would fade into history.

    Then something happened, and within a few weeks the disciples were back, preaching their message more conviction and courage than ever before. As a result, in just a few days 5000 people became followers of Christ.

    What happened? Two things. One, the disciples encountered the risen Christ. He was dead and now he was alive. Two, they were filled with the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God in their lives, and it gave them a new power, a new boldness, and a new sense of mission.

    Now in Acts chapter 3 we find the story of Peter healing a crippled man by speaking the name of Jesus. And that didn’t sit go well with the religious leaders. So they grabbed Peter and John and threw them in jail for the night.

    The next day the two disciples are brought before the council and are asked, "By what power or what name did you do this?"
    Peter answers, in effect, "Let me make it clear. It is by the name of Jesus Christ that this man has been healed. It’s all about Jesus." This isn't about him being merely a good teacher or a popular rabbi or a great philosopher. We're saying that this man, Jesus, is the cornerstone -- the foundation -- of all that we believe."

    And then Peter added this powerful and faith-defining sentence. He said, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to us by which we must be saved."

    That my friends is the gospel: Jesus lived, died, and rose again, and through him we have new life. That's what Christianity is really all about: who Christ is and what Christ has done, and what our response should be.

    And yet, sometimes, we're reluctant to talk about him. He belongs front and center, but we often try to tuck him away so that he doesn't offend anyone. Because of that, often the world misses out on hearing the greatest story ever told: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    So today I want to talk to you about what our message to the world needs to be, both as a church and as individuals.

    The message of the early church was unambiguous and bold. Yet, the truth is that sometimes our message is ambiguous and tentative. Sometimes we're not as clear as we need to be about what really matters most.

    And so today as we focus in on the message we should be sending to the world, I want to briefly talk about how we sometimes get it wrong, how we need to get it right, and how we can take a step to make it happen.

    First, let's talk about … HOW WE GET IT WRONG. The biggest mistake the church can make is to make following Jesus about something other than following Jesus. Yet throughout history, we've been guilty of doing that.

    One of the ways we do that is by making our message too much about the do's and don'ts. Often times we fall into the trap of just preaching about this sin and that sin and what every one else is doing wrong. We make it all about our behavior rather than all about Jesus!

    Now, does behavior matter? Of course it does. Do we need to confront sin? Of course we do. But the message of the gospel is not "You are a sinner." That statement is true, but it's not the gospel. The message of the gospel is that Jesus lived and died and rose again, and through him we have new life. Through him our sins can be forgiven!

    Our goal in ministry is not to get bad people to stop doing bad things. Our goal is to help bad people become good people. And when I say bad people -- you know who I'm talking about. I'm talking about us. The only you or me or anyone else in this world can be good is through the life-changing power of Jesus Christ.

    So yes, we talk about behavior, we talk about sin, we talk about right and wrong, but let's make it clear that Christianity isn’t just about do's and don'ts. It's about a one-on-one relationship with Jesus! It’s all about Jesus!

    Which brings me to the second thing I want to point out today. We’ve talked about how we can get it wrong; now let's talk about HOW WE CAN GET IT RIGHT. Peter said, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to us by which we must be saved."
    So if indeed there is salvation in no other way and through no one else, that means that Jesus needs to be the center of our focus … and the primary topic of our discussions. So I’d like to very quickly mention three things about Jesus that we need to stay focused on.

    First of all … Jesus shows us who God really is. He shows what God is like, because he himself is God. He wasn't just a good teacher. He, quite literally, is God in the flesh. He said to his followers … “If anyone who has seen me has seen the father.” He also said … "I and the Father are one."

    That means that Jesus is the spittin' image of God. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus … because Jesus is God. Jesus came into the world so that we might get the complete picture of who God is.

    So our message to the world needs to be: Do you want to know what kind of God we serve? Look at Jesus. Look at what he said and what he did and how he treated others. He is a perfect example of what God is like.

    We need to emphasize that in Jesus, we can see what God is really like. We also need to emphasize that Jesus shows us what love really means.

    Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who is considered to be one of the greatest minds and one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, was once asked during a lecture if he could sum up his theology in a single sentence. His response: "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

    Jesus really is about love. He came into this world to die on the cross for our sins because he loves each and every one of us. And he wants us to love him back … and … love each other. Jesus said, “This is my command …that you love one another.”
    So our message to the world needs to be that we take love seriously ... because Jesus takes love seriously -- and in the same way that he has shown his love to us, we seek to show his love to others.

    Jesus shows us who God really is. Jesus shows us what love really means. And here's a third thing we need to emphasize. Jesus shows us what life is really meant to be.

    You see, when Peter said that salvation is found in no one else, he's not just talking about going to heaven instead of hell when you die. He's talking about salvation in this life. He's talking about a crippled man who had just been healed by the power of Jesus Christ -- just as any broken life can be healed through his power.

    Jesus said, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." He also said, "These things have I spoken to you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."

    Jesus came so that we might experience life as it should be experienced -- not a life destroyed by sin, but a life redeemed and made right by his mercy and his grace and his power. And so our message to the world needs to be: Jesus, and no other, can make your life what it’s really meant to be.

    The gospel isn’t about politics. It isn’t about religion. And it isn’t just about all the do's and don'ts. The gospel is that Jesus lived, and died, and rose again -- and through him you can experience new life.

    Our message to the world needs to be about Jesus, that he can make a difference in your life. That means we need to be about Jesus. More than anything else, we need to be about Jesus.
    As we close, I want to give you one practical way to move in that direction. Beginning today, I challenge you to read the Gospel of John over the next seven days. If you read three chapters a day, you can finish it in a week.

    Find the easiest, most user-friendly translation you can. There are several to choose from. And then read John from start to finish. Don't try to do a deep and detailed study, just read the stories, and see what they tell you about Jesus, and see what they tell you about God.

    My prayer is that this simple reading of one of the gospel of John will kindle -- or perhaps rekindle -- a desire to know Jesus personally, and to make your life all about him.

    There’s no other name under heaven that has been given to us by which we must be saved. It’s all about Jesus! So let's make sure that we’re plenty familiar with the stories of his life … and that our message and our mission are all about Him.

  • A Story to Tell

    A Story to Tell
    Acts 2:1-4, 22-24 and Acts 8:26-40

    Most likely we’ve all experienced it. In fact, there are lots of jokes about it. You step on to the car lot just wanting to look or perhaps actually giving consideration to buying a new car. And without warning you get met by an over-achieving, impassioned car salesman. And the pressure is on.

    For some reason he gets it into his head that today, right now, is the time for you to buy a new car. And man is he persistent! He looks you in the eye and says, "What do I have to do to get you in this new car today?" And he has a predetermined answer for every concern that you may heave. He has all the answers to your objections.

    It’s not a very comfortable place to find yourself. In fact, the last few cars Linda and I’ve bought she didn’t see until they were parked in our driveway. She just doesn’t handle high-pressure sales very well. Most of us don’t!

    Yet, I find it interesting, perhaps even a bit disturbing, that those are the techniques often used in sharing the Gospel of Jesus with a lost world. It’s as if we’re to try to manipulate people into the Kingdom … to pressure them into becoming a Christian … to argue them into submission in accepting Christ.

    While that approach may work for some people, let me suggest that it’s not the answer for most of us. For most of us, I think that an approach called “Relational Evangelism” is much more appropriate. It’s more natural and much less threatening to us and the person we’re trying to share our faith with.

    That’s why this morning, on Pentecost Sunday, not only have we heard the story of Pentecost, as thousands of people became new Believers,
    but we’ve also heard the story of how the Apostle Philip very effectively shared the Christian faith with the Ethiopian eunuch. Let’s take a closer look at that encounter and notice how Philip shared the Gospel with him.

    Notice first how Philip was willing to listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompting.
    Verse 29 says, “The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it."

    This is how faith sharing needs to begin. We need to be listening for the gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit. He'll gently speak to you and draw someone to your attention. There were probably hundreds of people on that road, but it was the Ethiopian that the Spirit called to Philip's attention.

    That’s how sharing your faith works. You don’t grab every person you see on the street and shout the gospel in their face. You let the Holy Spirit guide you to the ones who are ready to listen. Believe me, if you make yourself available to him, God will guide you to the right people.

    If you will listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit, he’ll give you opportunities to share your faith others -- friends, strangers, family members, co-workers, and so on. Begin by saying, "Lord, open my eyes and my ears today to hear your voice and recognize the opportunities that you’ll place in my path."

    Another way to put that is to Look for an open door. Philip heard the man reading from the Old Testament … what an opening! So Philip asked him about what he was reading, to which the man replied, “Come Up and Sit with me.” Now that’s an open door and Philip walked right through it!

    The other side of the coin is that there’ll also be times when the door is tightly shut … completely unreceptive to hearing about the faith you want to share. When that happens, what do you do? … You respect the closed door.
    The Holy Spirit is still in the process of getting them ready. Listening to the Spirit and looking for the open door go hand-in-hand. God’s the one who’s at work in their heart. We’re just the bearer of the message. God prepares their heart to receive it.

    When you share your faith, listen for the Spirit’s prompting and look for the open door. Make sure the soil is fertile before you plant the seed. Don’t take the high-pressure sales approach. Let God do his work first. He’s the only one who can truly draw someone into a life-changing relationship with him.

    From Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian, I think we can also see how important it is that when we share our faith ... We begin right where they are. In other words, it’s not about having a predetermined 5 step cookie cutter process to lead someone into the faith. It’s much more personal than that. Notice how it worked with Philip’s story.

    The Ethiopian was reading from the book of Isaiah. He was very obviously interested in that Old Testament writing. So that’s where Philip began. Verse 35 says, “Then Philip began with that very of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.”

    I think often times in sharing our faith, we try to answer questions that the person isn’t even asking …we try to force the conversation in a direction that isn’t particularly relevant to what’s happening in that person’s life. In other words, we don’t listen to their hurts and needs … we just plow forward with our own preset agenda.

    So when the Spirit leads and the door opens, talk to that person about where they are, about their questions and curiosities. Make it a conversation that’s relevant to what’s going on in their life.
    And that’s the really great thing about the Christian faith. It addresses human life right where the rubber meets the road. It reaches out to us with comfort, and direction, and assurance that touches our lives right where we live. It scratches us right where we itch.

    But the Gospel does that … not with a philosophy or a self-help technique or even a religious set of rules … it reaches out to us with a story of a person … a person like no other … a person who can heal our hurts and meet our needs. That’s why it’s absolutely critical that we Tell them about Jesus.

    Verse 35 tells us, “Then Philip began with that very of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. And that’s where our conversation needs to ultimately take our conversation as well. It's all about Jesus.

    It's not about church or politics or following a bunch of rules and regulations. It's all about Jesus, how he lived and died and rose again, and all who put their trust in him experience new life … because he is the Lord of all creation and he wants to be the Lord of our life.

    Maybe you don't yet know the Scriptures well enough to talk about the prophetic nuances of Isaiah 53 … but you can tell others what Jesus has done for you. You can tell others what Jesus can do for them.

    If you're talking to others about the Christian faith, and your conversation is primarily about what we as a church think about culture and politics, you're missing the point.

    Our goal is to show a lost and dying world how they can experience life in a one-on-one relationship with Jesus Christ. When you share your faith, share Jesus. And then leave the decision up to them.

    You see, it's their decision what they’ll do about their relationship with God. You can't make the decision for them, and you certainly can't pressure them into making the right decision. It's a decision each individual has to make for themselves. We just bear the message. We just tell the story. They choose.

    When Philip was talking to the Ethiopian, he didn't start trying to manipulate the conversation and close the deal so that the man could sign on the dotted line. He just told him about Jesus, and suddenly the man responded.

    Vs 37-38 tell us, “As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here’s some water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" And he gave orders to stop the chariot.

    You see, the Ethiopian owned his decision and decided to be baptized. And it wasn’t because Philip smooth-talked his way through a slick presentation. It was because he told him about Jesus … and he was ready to hear and commit.

    I think we sometimes make the mistake of thinking that evangelism is selling Christianity, and we're to be the high-pressure salesmen. But it's not that at all. You're not God's sales person, you're his reporter.

    It's not your job to "close the deal." It's your job to tell the story. To report what God has done through Jesus Christ and what he has done in your life. Just tell the story. Tell them God’s story. And tell them the difference that God has made in your life.

    And that’s how we make our mark on the world around us: When the Spirit leads and the door opens, start the conversation. Tell the story. Tell them God’s story. And let God be the one to draw them into the faith.
    That’s what Peter did on the day of Pentecost. And that’s what Philip did with the Ethiopian. And that’s what God is still asking us to do today.

    It’s not about us. It’s about the power of God’s Spirit to work in and through us. So just relax and tell the story.

  • Becoming All God Created You to Be

    “Becoming All God Created You to Be”
    Mark 6:1-6

    Many of you probably know his story. He grew up in a Catholic family in a small town in Illinois. He was one of 14 children. And he had a dream for his life … a really big dream.

    But for all his life he was told he didn't have a chance … too many things were working against him. He was rather small built and he didn’t do very well academically. He was only 5'6" and graduated third in his class - third from the bottom, that is!

    So after high school he went into the Navy and then spent four years working a union job at a steel mill. It was a good job - secure, good benefits, decent pay. But something kept telling him it just wasn’t right for him. There was something else to do with his life. You see, he wanted to play football. Rudy wanted to play football for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame!

    Of course, it was a ridiculous dream, and everyone told him so. Still, he wouldn’t let it go. Finally, Rudy made the most important decision of his life: he decided to intentionally take responsibility for himself … that no one else could live his life for him. So he quit his job and moved to South Bend.

    Obviously nothing had changed for him academically and he was quickly denied admission to Notre Dame. So he enrolled at Holy Cross Junior College. At this point in his academic career, Rudy had never made anything better than a C! Yet, he threw himself into his studies, and made the necessary grades to eventually get accepted at Notre Dame.

    After getting accepted at Notre Dame, he then faced his greatest challenge: trying out for the Fighting Irish football team. Being 5'6" and 190 pounds, he knew he didn't have a chance of making varsity – all he wanted was to make the squad. And against all odds, he made it - ahead of players who were bigger, faster, and stronger, simply because he had more heart.

    For two years, Monday through Friday Rudy worked out with one of
    the greatest teams in college football history. Each Saturday, the best 60 players suited up … as Rudy could only watch from the game from the stands, just like any other fan. But in the last home game of his senior year, Rudy was given the chance to suit up.

    What seemed impossible had become a reality. Rudy's hard work and intense enthusiasm had made him into something of a local hero among the other players, the students, and even the fans in South Bend. Toward the end of the game, with Notre Dame leading by more than a touchdown, the players and fans began chanting for him." (Clip)

    Coach Devine sent Rudy in to play with 27 seconds left to play. On the last play of the game, Rudy broke through the line and sacked the Georgia Tech quarterback. The Fighting Irish players spontaneously lifted Rudy to their shoulders and carried him off the field.

    What a great story of a young man who refused to let people … or circumstances stand in the way of pursuing his dream. With every resource he had, with unimaginable passion, and with unwavering commitment, he beat the odds and saw that dream come true.

    And you know, I think that’s how God intends for each of us to live our lives as well… with passion and commitment, striving with everything that we have to become all that God created us to be!! So much of life can be wasted if we just drift along without purpose or direction.

    You know friends, I really do believe that God wants each of us to discover his desire and purpose for our lives … and then to pursue it with everything we have and all that we are. In Ephesians 2:10, Paul whole-heartedly agrees … as he tells us …

    ”We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The problem is, there are a whole lot of things in this life that work against those plans that God has in mind for us to do.
    This morning I’d like for us to take a few minutes to consider some of those obstacles and how we can overcome them. To do that, we take a look at our text from Mark chapter 6, where Jesus himself confronts some of those very same obstacles to following God’s will that we face today.

    Jesus is still in the early stages of his ministry. He had started to gain some notoriety. Then he visits his hometown where he’s invited to speak at the synagogue. When he does, the people are shocked by the way that he speaks with such authority.

    "Who does he think he is? Isn't he the carpenter’s boy? Isn't this
    the son of Mary? Don't we know his brothers and sisters?" The people are outraged … to which Jesus responds, "Only in his hometown is a prophet without honor." Then the bible says that he didn’t perform many miracles there because of their unbelief.

    As we think about how Jesus responds to this situation, I think there are some lessons we can learn about becoming all that God created us to be … about discovering God’s will for our lives … and following it.

    First of all, it seems to me that Jesus’ actions are saying to us

    You see, the people in Jesus’ hometown had a very specific idea about who they thought Jesus was. They only saw him from a certain perspective. They could only see him as a carpenter, as the son of Mary, as the kid down the street. That’s all they could see in him.

    But Jesus saw himself much differently. He saw himself for who he really was … God's Son, the Messiah, the one who would die for the sins of the world. And so he simply refused to let himself be defined by people who really didn't know nor understand him.

    And don’t we find this to pretty much be true in our lives as well?
    I’d venture to say there are people in your life who think they know who you are. But more often than not, their vision of who you are tends to not take into account all the potential that God has placed within you.
    Maybe you know this guy’s story. He was just a busboy in a restaurant in Nashville, but he had a pretty big dream. And so he kept pestering the house band to let him play. The band members laughed at him to his face. They saw him as just a busboy, and a big hick.

    But that busboy saw himself differently. He saw himself as a musician, as a country music superstar. So he refused to let other people define him. . Today, most of us would recognize that busboy as Randy Travis.

    You see, most people only see us for who we are at that moment, or perhaps by the things we’ve done in the past. But God sees us in a different way. GOD SEES YOU FOR WHO HE CREATED YOU TO BE!

    In describing those who’ve come to Christ, the Apostle Peter reminds us, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9

    So don’t let others define who you are. See yourself for who you really are. In Christ you are chosen, because you belong to God! Live your life the way God intended it! Become all that God created you to be! Don’t let anyone else hold you back or define who you are!

    From Jesus’ encounter in his hometown, we also can also pick up on a second very important element in becoming who God created us to be. And that is DON’T LET OTHERS DETERMINE WHAT YOU SHOULD DO.

    The second part of vs 3 says they took offense at Jesus. Why? Because what he was doing didn't fit their idea of what they thought he should be doing. So they judged him - they took offense at him.

    How did Jesus respond? He said, in effect, "You don't get it. A prophet is accepted and honored everywhere but in his own hometown ... because you can’t see what I’m capable of doing."

    David Edwards is an extremely gifted speaker. He speaks about 500 times a year to all kinds of groups.
    Every Monday he flies to Houston, to lead the Metro Bible Study at First Baptist Church. Every Tuesday he leads a bible study in Oklahoma City; every Thursday he’s in Birmingham, Al.

    On the days in between he speaks at churches, youth rallies, retreats, conventions … anywhere he gets the opportunity. And he truly is gifted!

    But a lot of people underestimated David's abilities early on. He had epilepsy, dyslexia and other disabilities that caused doctors, counselors, and teachers to warn that he’d never be able to graduate from high school.

    Yet, with great passion and commitment … and God’s help, David overcame his obstacles and graduated with honors ... and went on to college on a full academic scholarship. He simply refused to let others keep him from doing what God was calling him to do.

    So be prepared. When it comes to following God’s will for your life, there’ll be some who won’t be able to see it in you. They may try to discourage you or even accuse you of selfish ambition. But if you sense God’s leading in your life, don’t listen to their negative talk. DO WHAT GOD IS CALLING YOU TO DO!

    As the Apostle Paul was writing to the Christians in Philippi, he was facing tremendous opposition to doing what God had called him to do. Circumstances seemed to have him down. They though he had been beaten. But Paul knew what he was capable of with God’s help.

    So with tremendous confidence he boldly proclaims, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

    Becoming what God created you to be means living life willing to confidently face even the most challenging times of life with confidence and passion. It means discovering God’s will and following after it.

    And that means you can’t let others define who you are or judge what you should do as you seek after God’s will for your life. And so that simply means that you DON’T LET OTHERS HOLD YOU BACK. (vs 5-6)
    Think about it. If Jesus had stayed in his home town of Nazareth,
    he never would have accomplished what God had called him to do. It just wasn’t going to happen there because they though they knew who he was and what he should be doing.

    Becoming what God is calling us to be sometimes requires us to realize when something isn’t working … and then moving on.

    This happens in all kinds of situations in life. Sometimes moving on means finding a new job, or making a new set of friends, or going back to school, or giving up old habits, or … the list could go on and on. The point is, often times to become what God created you to be requires a new start.

    A word of caution here. Don’t use this scripture as an excuse to just take the easy way out. Be sure that it’s God’s will for you to move on and not just you looking for an easy way out when things get tough.

    But there are times when we just need have the courage to pick up and move forward. And when that happens, friends, We serve is a God who specializes in new beginnings! He’s the God of second chances … and third chances … and forth chances ….

    A very familiar verse from 2 Corinthians 5:17 assures us, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

    Past mistakes can be overcome. You don’t have to live under the condemnation of things gone by. With God’s help, you really can move on with your life! Don’t let others define who you are. Don’t let others determine what you should do. With God’s help, put the past behind you and move forward with your life!

    The Apostle Paul tells us in Phil 3: 12, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
    You know, Rudy could have spent the rest of his life working in that steel mill. He could have given in to who everyone though he was and settled for doing what everyone else thought he should be doing. He could have let them hold him back. But he didn’t. He chose to step out and become more than what anyone ever though he could become.

    Likewise, Jesus could have stayed in Nazareth and given in to who everyone thought he was and settled for being just Mary’s son, the village carpenter. But he knew that God had something bigger planned for his life.

    Jesus didn’t let anyone else define who he was or decide what he should be doing. He refused to let them hold him back. Certain of God’s leading on his life, he moved forward. And God’s will was accomplished through him in a mighty way!

    And so it can be in our lives as well. God has placed so much potential in each of you. And how sad it is when you settle for less than what God created you to be. Understand that you will undoubtedly face obstacles as you strive to live out that potential … but so did Jesus!

    So don’t let that hold you back. Live your life with passion, enthusiasm and commitment to God’s will for your life.

    BECOME ALL GOD CREATED YOU TO BE! And who knows in what miraculous way God may choose to use your life. Only God knows! But for goodness sakes … don’t settle for less!

  • Make a Difference

    Make Your Mark: Make a Difference
    Acts 10:30-43

    This morning we're beginning a new sermon series that will continue for the next 8 weeks. It's called Make Your Mark. And it's about learning how to live your life in such a way that you leave a legacy when you go -- which, by the way, hopefully won't be for a long time.

    Steve Jobs, Apple's visionary leader, often used the phrase, "Let's make a dent in the universe." He was talking about what we'll be talking about in this series -- living a life that leaves a mark on the world around you.

    We’re going to be focusing in on 8 purposes or 8 intentions that we need to adopt in order to reach our full potential as followers of Christ. These purposes can be found in the book of Acts and can be seen in the lives of the leaders of the early church.

    It’s pretty amazing that the church started with a handful of discouraged men and, within a couple of centuries, had become a global force for good. And it had nothing to do with political power or military strength; it had everything to do with the unstoppable force of Jesus at work in our world.

    In this series, as we talk about these 8 purposes, we’ll be challenged to adopt them for ourselves. We'll also be talking about how we as a church can also take on these values and put them into practice as we reach out to our comm.

    Today we'll look at something the Apostle Peter said about Jesus -- something that should have a big influence on each one of us -- but first I want to ask you three questions.

    Question #1. If you could sum up your life up to this point in a single sentence, how would you do it?

    How would you summarize your life? For example: "I had a tendency to take the easy way." Or, "I always looked out for myself." Or, "I dotted every i and crossed every t. Or, "At least, for the most part, I mean well, most of the time." How would you summarize your life up to this point?

    Question #2. How would those closest to you summarize your life up to
    this point?

    I’m not talking about your enemies or so-called friends who don’t really believe in you. I’m talking about those who know you the best and love you the most – how would they summarize your life up to this point?
    For example, “He’s got a good heart but you can’t count on him.” Or, “He’s got an explosive temper, sometimes you just got stay out of his way.” Or, “Whenever you’re in a jam, he’s the guy to call.” Or, “He does everything with a spirit of excellence.”
    Question #3. Looking beyond today, toward the end of your life, How would you want your life to be summarized -- not only by yourself, not only by others, but also by our heavenly Father?
    When your thoughts, deeds, motives, intentions and accomplishments are put on the scale, what would you like the evidence to suggest that your life was all about?
    When Jesus walked among us, he told us what his life was about. And, of course, we see it in his actions. He said..."For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost." He also said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." That's what the life of Jesus was about!

    He came to seek out those whose lives have been wrecked by sin, and to save them, and to fill their lives with meaning and purpose and -- in his words -- fullness.
    Now, back to this question about how you might summarize your life.
    Shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Peter was invited to a man's house to talk to him about the Christian faith. This man's name was Cornelius; he was a soldier in the Roman army.

    He wasn’t a Jew, but he was what was considered a "God-fearing" person.
    So, he was a good man: the Bible says that he was generous to the poor and prayed to God regularly.

    Then one day he had a vision in which an angel told him, in effect, "Your good deeds haven’t gone unnoticed, and if you really want to know what life in God is all about, you need to talk to a man named Peter."

    So Cornelius then sent for Peter and he told him all about Jesus. He preached a short sermon, and that day Cornelius was saved, baptized, and filled with the Holy Spirit. He went from being merely a God-fearing Gentile to being a Spirit-filled follower of Jesus Christ.

    Today we're going to zero in on one verse in this story, on one phrase that was spoken by Peter to Cornelius about Jesus. He summarized the life of Jesus in such a simple yet elegant way, that it should inspire us to live the same way -- after all, we're his followers.

    I want you to hear what Peter said. In Acts 10 he tells Cornelius, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him."

    There are many things about Jesus that you and I can never duplicate or imitate. Our birth wasn't announced by a heavenly host of angels and neither was there a star above the delivery room. None of us can walk on water. But we are called to be imitators of Christ.

    How are we to do that? We find the answer in Peter's words to Cornelius, "He went around doing good." If that's the best way to summarize the life of Jesus, then it should also summarize the lives of his followers -- that we, too, go around doing good.

    Luke Cameron is a young man living in the UK. Towards the end of 2013, a close family friend, a woman who had been like a second mother to him, died of cancer. Luke was devastated, and as a way of honoring her life and her memory, Luke resolved to do a good deed every day.
    For the next weeks and months he continued to look for the opportunity to do at least one good deed each and every day. For example, he bought food for homeless people. He gave spare change to a woman who didn't have enough money for the parking meter. He picked up litter at the park.
    He also blogged about the experience as a way to keep himself accountable and to inspire others to try it, too. Soon his habit of doing good deeds everyday took root in his life and it has changed the way he lives.
    You often hear people say ,“That's my good deed for the day.” Many people think that comes from the Boy Scouts. But those who were scouts know better. Scouts don't teach the concept of doing one good deed a day, but rather doing a good turn at every opportunity.
    The story is that an American businessman named William Boyce was visiting the UK, and got lost on the street one day in the London fog.

    A young boy -- Boyce described him as a 'street urchin' -- approached him and, with a salute, said, "May I be of service to you, sir?"
    Mr. Boyce told him that he was lost and would like to be able to find such and such address. The boy said, "Follow me," and led him to the building he was looking for.
    When Mr. Boyce reached in his pocket to give a coin to the young man as a reward, the young man saluted again and said, "Sir, I am a Scout. Scouts don't accept tips for courtesies."
    Today I'm saying that every believer and every church should adopt this value as their own: Just like Jesus did, we need to go around doing good at every opportunity.
    John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church had a way a cutting through religious ritualism and meaningless formalities and focusing instead on the essence of what it really means to be a follower of Jesus. He summarized the Christian life in three general rules, three simple rules that every committed Christian needs to live by. Here they are.
    1. Do no harm.
    He said we do this "by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced."

    2. Do Good.
    Paraphrasing a little bit, the rule says that we should be as merciful as we have the power to be and "at every opportunity do good of every possible sort, to all." Do good. Where did Wesley get that idea? From Jesus. He went around doing good.

    3. Stay in love with God. We do this "by attending all the ordinances of God." In other words, prayer, Bible study, worship, fellowship, and service. Wesley's message to believers was that if you will follow these three general rules, you will become an effective disciple of Jesus Christ.

    In the final few minutes of this message I want us to look again at today's text, and I want us to look at three phrases that are essential to living such a life.
    38 "...God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and ... he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him."

    In this verse we see that, in order to have a "doing good at every opportunity" lifestyle, there are three truths we need to keep in mind. First of all...

    1. It requires the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter said, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power..." Jesus himself said...
    "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you..." (Acts 1:8)

    2. It often leads you into spiritual battle. Peter says Jesus went around doing good … and healing all who were under the power of the devil..."

    This is what I want you to understand. We're not just talking about shallow surface-level do-goodism here. We're talking about spiritual warfare. When you commit to go around doing good at every opportunity, you're going to find yourself facing opposition.

    Going around doing good requires the power of the Holy Spirit, and it often leads you in the direction of spiritual battle, and ... 3. It's evidence of God's presence in your life. Peter said, “Jesus went around doing good ... because God was with him."

    When you walk with God, you want to do good. You want to help others. A natural result of God's presence in your life is that you want to be a blessing to others. But that isn’t always easy. We've all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

    The Prophet Isaiah reminds us, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Doing good isn’t something we can accomplish on our own. In fact, many times the more we try to be good, the more we mess things up.

    Even though we don't have it in us to be all that good, God wants to pour all his goodness into each and every one of us. He wants to enter each and every heart and make his home there. He wants you to be able to go around doing good … because he’s with you.

    Today I want to invite you to make that connection with Christ. It's as simple as turning away from the past, and asking him to come into your heart today, to forgive your sins and to give you new heart and a new life and a new future and a new hope. And His presence will give you the purpose and power to go around doing good at every opportunity.

    I asked you earlier how you or others might summarize your life up to this point. Maybe the response was something you feel good about, and maybe it wasn't. But here's the good news: You can change the answer starting today.

    Through the Holy Spirit, you have the power to make a difference. Because God is with you, you can go around doing good in such a way that it defines the mark you make on the world around you.

  • Welcoming Jesus

    Matthew 21:1-11

    As we pick up with our scripture lesson this morning, it’s Passover time …
    an especially sacred time in Jewish life … a time when hundreds of thousands of people would converge on Jerusalem. In fact, Jewish law required that every male within 20 miles of the holy city had to come to the Passover; and thousands more from every corner of the world would also make that sacred pilgrimage.

    As this particular Passover approached, Jesus and his disciples were preparing to go to Jerusalem as well. At this point, Jesus was at the peak of his popularity. He had been traveling throughout the area preaching, teaching and healing people. Naturally, word about him had spread like wildfire. And now, with people coming to Jerusalem from all over the world, they were eager to see this "new prophet."

    So notice how Jesus staged his entry into Jerusalem in dramatic fashion.
    He sent his disciples into a nearby village to get a donkey to ride it through the streets of the Holy City. His choice to do this was very intentional and significant.
    It was to fulfill a prophecy from the Old Testament book of Zechariah that says ...

    “Say to the Daughter of Zion, "See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

    And so as Jesus entered the city, a large crowd began to gather. Some spread their coats on the road, others spread palm branches - and as he rode through the streets they followed him, shouting...

    "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! "Hosanna in the highest!"

    Once inside the city, we read that Jesus then went into the temple and created quite a stir … overturning tables and chasing out the merchants who were doing business there, he also healed the blind and lame, and continued to receive the praise of the people gathered there ... especially the children. What an exciting time it was! Jesus was receiving a grand welcome into the holy city!

    This morning, as we think about how Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem so long ago, I’d like to suggest to you that yet today we too still have the opportunity to welcome him into our lives as well. Just like those joyous worshippers of that first Palm Sunday, we too can offer him entry into our hearts and lives yet today.

    But as we take a closer look at the events of that first Palm Sunday, I think we can catch a glimpse of what his entry into our life really means. The events of that day can help us to better understand how we can prepare ourselves to welcome him with open hearts and minds as we join our songs of praise with those of so long ago. So lets take a closer look.

    Notice how in vs 9, as Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowds that followed him cried out "Hosanna to the Son of David!" Now the word "hosanna" literally means "God save us." And so for us to welcome Jesus into our lives today, it means that we need to Be Open for God to Save Us.

    You see, these people were acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah, as the one who would save the people of Israel. They saw him as their coming Savior - they just didn't realize at that point what that meant.

    They didn't realize that in just a few days Jesus would be crucified for their sins. They didn't understand about the atoning death of Jesus - that through his death our sins could be forgiven and we’d be offered eternal life. Not even the disciples fully understood that, in spite of all that Jesus had tried to teach them.

    But none-the-less this crowd welcomed him as their Messiah … crying out to him, "God save us." As we gather this morning, for us to truly welcome Jesus into our lives today, that’s an invitation that we too need to extend to Jesus as well. We too need to be open for God to come and save us.

    You see, we need a savior just as much as those people long ago. Our life is just as much out of control as the people of Jesus’ day. We may not be living under the oppression of a conquering army, but we certainly live under the very real oppression of sin in our lives. We Too Need a Savior to Deliver us!

    That’s an acknowledgement that we depend completely on God! It’s a recognition that we can’t save ourselves.
    You see friends, we need God to step into our lives and help us. To save us from not only sin, but also from ourselves and the situations we find ourselves in. And we simply can’t do that on our own.

    The Psalmist certainly understood that reality as he says in Psalm 27:1,
    “The Lord is my light and my salvation … The stronghold of my life.” And again in Psalm 28:7 as he says, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart runs to him and I am helped.”

    You see, we never get to the point where we don't need to depend on God; we never get to the point where we don't need him to save us. And I'm not just talking about the initial salvation experience; I'm talking about everyday Christian living.
    Only God can save us! Only God help us live the Christian life!

    If we want to welcome Jesus into our lives and faithfully continue along the Christian journey, the foundation of our lives must be total and complete trust in God. It begins and continues with an invitation for God to come into our lives and save us … as we depend completely on Him for all that we need!

    A second aspect of welcoming Jesus into our lives today is the need for us to Be Open for God to Come and Cleanse US. Notice what happened after Jesus entered the Holy City. He did something that may seem shocking at first. Listen to what Matthew tells us in vs. 12 of our lesson this morning:

    “Jesus then entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.”

    Why did he do that? As I mentioned earlier, thousands and thousands of people had come to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Part of the requirement of that event was for the worshippers to pay the temple tax and to offer a sacrifice.

    For them to do that though, they had to pay the temple tax in temple currency. For many, that meant exchanging their money for acceptable coins. So they had to deal with the moneychangers who would take advantage of them and charge them an exorbitant exchange fee.

    It also meant coming up with a dove that was without spot or blemish. And the only way to be sure that it would pass the inspection of the priests was to buy it from the temple merchants. And of course, their prices were extremely inflated.

    So sincere people were making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship God at the temple and they were being taken advantage of … actually, flat out cheated. It was a corrupt and oppressive system, and Jesus didn't like it. It just wasn’t right … and so Jesus decided to do something about it.

    We read that he came into the temple and began to wreak havoc. He overturned tables and drove out the moneychangers. And in John's gospel it says that he made a whip and set all the animals loose. Then he said with authority...

    "It is written, 'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you have made it into a den of thieves.'"

    Now I've heard sermons on this text where the emphasis was placed on our doing the same thing Jesus did: that we need to stand up to sin, we need to cry out against corruption, we need to overturn tables and clean things up.

    And that’s absolutely right. There's no question that we need to take a stand against sin in the world. But before we go on a rampage somewhere out in our community, let's first take a good look at this from another perspective.

    Perhaps first we should ask ourselves: If Jesus came into the temple of my life what tables would he overturn? What elements of my life would he want to drive out? What areas of my life go against the grain of what he’s called me to be?

    As we welcome Jesus into our lives, our prayer needs to be, "God, cleanse me. Take Away Anything In My Life That Is Offensive To You. Cleanse my life like you cleansed the temple. Make my life fully and completely acceptable to you.

    Certainly the Psalmist understood the importance of this invitation for God to cleanse us as he pleads to God in Psalm 51, “Wash away all my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.”

    Jesus also must have had that thought in mind as he warns in Matthew 7:4 …
    “How can you say to your brother, let me take the speck out of your eye, while at the same times there is a plank in your own eye?”

    And so as we welcome Jesus into our lives, we need to be open for God to come and save us and cleans us. To save us from our sins, to save us from ourselves and to save us from the situations we face in life. And also to cleanse us from all that isn’t pleasing to God.

    A third aspect of welcoming Jesus into our lives that we see in today’s text is the need for us to Be Open for God to Also Come and Use Us. Notice how in vs 14 Jesus seems to be trying to help the people understand how important it is to always be involved in the lives of others.

    Notice how even as he’s being welcomed into the holy city, amid the joy and celebration, and commotion of cleansing the temple, Jesus is still making the most of each opportunity to reach out and help people. Vs 14 says, “The blind and the lame came into the temple, and he healed them.”

    This verse helps us to understand two important things about the ministry of Jesus and what God expects of us as we welcome him into our lives. First of all, we need to understand that People’s Needs Are Important to God!

    Think about what was happening here. Jesus’ life and ministry were quickly drawing to a close. He was caught up in a whirlwind of activity. There was so much left to do and so little time left to do it. Yet, Jesus was still reaching out to lost and hurting people.

    Jesus came into the temple and saw the blind and the lame, and he was moved with compassion and began helping them. That's what we need to be doing as well. There are hurting people all around us; and God is calling us to reach out to them and bring the healing power of Christ into their lives. Jesus said, “Whatever you do for the least of one of these, you do for me.” Matt 25:40

    And so as we welcome Jesus into our lives, it also means welcoming those who are lost and hurting into our lives right along with him. The Bible consistently reminds that we can’t truly love God and not love our neighbor as well. Welcoming him into our life … is to welcome them into our life as well.
    A second thing this verse helps us to understand about the ministry of Jesus and what Jesus is calling us to do is to Stay Focused On What’s Most Important!

    You see friends, it’s so easy to get distracted. It’s so easy to begin to place our emphasis on things other than what God is calling us to do. It’s so easy to begin to allow our personal preferences and priorities to come to the forefront. That’s why we need to be very intentional about keeping first things first.

    Luke 19:10 tells us in a nut shell that “Jesus came to seek and to save what was lost.” And he never lost sight of that. So after he cleansed the temple, he went right back to his ministry of helping people. He didn't get side-tracked. He didn’t lose focus of the vision.

    He didn't make cleansing temples the new focus of his ministry. He didn't start looking for corrupt organizations so he could overturn their tables. He went right back to doing job one. Helping lost and hurting people know the love and grace of God remained his first priority. Everything else was secondary.

    In our lives, we too need to stay just as focused in on doing job one. We need to avoid getting side-tracked on issues that just aren’t as important. Our agenda needs to be, first and foremost, to be share God’s love and grace with those in need. Everything else needs to come in at a distant second.

    So as we welcome Jesus into our lives, our prayer should be "God use us to
    do your work here on earth. Just as Jesus reached out to lost and hurting people, help us to reach out to them as well. Help us to make a difference in people's lives."

    That first Palm Sunday was a day fill with lots of excitement and activity. As Jesus entered the holy city, he was greeted with shouts of Hosanna, God save us! As he entered the temple that day, he cleansed it of the sin and corruption that he found there. Yet even amid all this excitement and activity, he never stopped touching people’s lives with God’s love and grace.

    What a wonderfully vivid picture of how we too can welcome Jesus into our lives today. Not so much with parades and palm branches, but with a sincere, heart-felt prayer of invitation for him to come and save us … for him to come and cleanse us … and for him to come and use us for his glory!

  • Elements of An Effective Prayer Life: Forgiveness

    Elements of An Effective Prayer Life: Forgiveness
    Matthew 6:12

    This morning I’d like for us to spend some time thinking about something
    that each and every one of us hold in common. It’s something that all of us have experienced on many different occasions in our life.

    Unless you’ve lived your whole life on a deserted island, you know what it is to be hurt by someone. You know what it is to feel as though you’ve been wronged by another person. Each of us has been treated poorly at one time or another.

    On the other hand, the flip side of that reality is also true. Not a single one of us here this morning is perfect. We’ve all made mistakes, sometimes unintentionally, other times on purpose. And so unless you’ve lived your whole life on a deserted island, you know what it’s like to hurt someone else with your words or actions.

    Obviously what I’m talking about here is the need for forgiveness. Whether you’re the one that’s been hurt, or the one inflicting the hurt, what’s needed at that point is forgiveness … either to offer it, or perhaps to receive it. The need for forgiveness is universal. We’ve all been there … on both sides.

    The scripture that Janie read also covers both sides of that coin. Both servants shared the need of forgiveness … and the one who had the greatest need to be forgiven also had the responsibility to offer the same forgiveness he had been extended. And not doing so kept him from experiencing the forgiveness that he so needed.

    So we’re talking about the two side of forgiveness: The need to receive forgiveness from those who have hurt us … but also the need for us to extend it to those that we have hurt. Separate sides … but the same coin: The two sides of forgiveness.

    Now as we turn our attention toward Jesus’ model prayer, we actually find that very same two-sided coin being lifted up to us as Jesus teaches us to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses … as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”

    Receiving and giving forgiveness … they’re connected … they’re interwoven.
    You can’t have one without the other. And that’s Jesus’ premise … not mine.
    During the entre season of Lent we’ve be talking about some of the elements of effective prayer … things that we need to be aware of if we really want to go deeper in our prayer life … blocks upon which we can build the foundation of our prayers. And each element comes directly from the model prayer Jesus taught us.

    Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name: that’s the element of Recognition. It’s important to begin our prayers by acknowledging the One we’re praying to … he is our heavenly Father who is deserving of our honor.

    Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven: That’s the element of Surrender. It’s where we willingly choose to surrender our will to God’s will. It’s giving authority to God to work in our lives as he thinks best … thy kingdom come, thy will be done.

    Give us this day our daily bread: That’s the element of Reliance. It’s coming to grips with the reality that all we have and all we are is a gift from God, that we’re not self-made. Day by day we rely on God for all that we need. It’s an act of humility before God. We need him to provide. Give us this day our daily bread.

    Which brings us up to this morning’s element that can help us have a more effective prayer life: That’s the element of Forgiveness. If you remember, unforgiveness was one of the barriers to effective prayer that we talked about a few weeks ago.

    You see, forgiveness is the element that heals our relationships … our relationship with God and our relationship with others. And you can take this to the bank: if we choose to live in unforgiveness, receiving it or offering it, it’s going to affect our relationship with God … and therefore the quality of our prayer life.

    So let’s take a few minutes to think about some of the things that keep us from either offering or receiving forgiveness. Let me offer just a few quick thoughts along those lines.

    Let’s begin with PRIDE. Often times our pride stands in the way of us giving or receiving forgiveness. In that sense, pride has a way of building a wall that begins to separate us from God. Let’s talk more about that.

    One of the parts of receiving God’s forgiveness is our willingness to confess what we’ve done wrong. It’s admitting to God that we messed up and need him to step in and do something about it … something that we can’t do for ourselves.

    The thing is, we can’t earn or deserve forgiveness. Forgiveness comes only by grace. We acknowledge the need of us being forgiven, but it’s only the person that we’ve offended that can give it. Now that’s humbling! And that’s where our pride becomes a roadblock to us receiving their forgiveness.

    Pride stands in the way of us admitting that we’re wrong and that we’ve hurt someone else. We don’t want to admit our need to be forgiven. But we can’t receive what we’re unwilling to acknowledge.

    This is true for God, as well as those around us. For us to live in the forgiveness that God offers, we have to be willing to admit our need for it. God won’t force his forgiveness on us. We need to acknowledge our need of it and willingly receive it.

    So pride can stand in the way of us receiving forgiveness. On the other hand, pride can also stand in the way of us offering forgiveness to others. You see, pride and grace are mutually exclusive. To extend someone grace by offering forgiveness, even when we know they don’t deserve it, takes a lot of humility.

    By withholding our forgiveness, we somehow think it gives us some kind of power over the other person. To offer forgiveness somehow seems like we’re saying that what they did to us was okay. But that’s not what offering forgiveness is all about. It’s about grace … offing something to someone that they just simply don’t deserve.

    If you think about it, God is the ultimate role model for this. The book of Romans tells us that “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” While we were in full rebellion against God, not only was he willing to offer us forgiveness, but he was also willing to pay the price to make it possible. Think about that.

    When the first servant stood before the king owing him somewhere around 12 million dollars, you can bet the servant was very aware of his need to have the loan forgiven. And he had nothing to offer the king. Pride was the last thing he would have been feeling! But that humility enabled the servant to receive forgiveness.

    On the other hand, when that servant refused to forgive the second servant who owed him money … my guess would be that pride had a lot to do with it. That debt made it possible for him to lord it over the second servant … which ultimately stood in the way of his debt being forgiven by the king.

    Another thing that can stand in the way of us offering, or receiving, forgiveness has to do with GUILT. And make no mistake; unresolved guilt can shut down a person’s prayer life.

    You see, there’s just something inside each of us that can’t live with the reality that we’ve done something wrong. It’s our conscience … that voice inside that keeps reminding us that something needs done to make things right.

    And that guild causes embarrassment. When we haven’t been forgiven of what we’ve done wrong, we tend to avoid the people associated with that guilt. Whether they’re co-conspirators or the victims that we’ve wronged … We avoid them!

    That happened to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. After disobeying God they experienced guilt over what they had done. And that guilt led to them being embarrassed before God. So when God came to walk with them in the Garden, they hid from him. And friends, we’ve been hiding from God ever since.

    Offering and receiving forgiveness is the only answer to the guilt that separates us from God … the guilt that causes us to try to hide from God. So pride and guilt must be dealt with before we can experience the freedom and release that only forgiveness can offer.

    And it’s forgiveness that helps us to maintain a healthy relationship with God … which is necessary for us to have an effective prayer life. So to have an effective prayer life, we need to deal with our pride and our guilt that stands in the way of us giving, and receiving, forgiveness.

    In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells a parable that vividly illustrates the affect of both pride and guilt … and the affect that they have on our prayer life. It’s found in Luke chapter 18. Let me quickly read it for you.

    To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.

    But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner. And Jesus responded, I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

    Pride kept the Pharisee from receiving forgiveness. Humility enabled the tax collector to receive it. The Pharisee wasn’t willing to admit his guilt before God.

    On the other hand, the tax collector was well aware of his guilt and his need to be forgiven. To have an effective prayer life, we simple have to deal with our pride and acknowledge our guilt. That’s the only way forgiveness can flow!

    Remember, forgiveness is something we all hold in common. Forgiveness is a two-way street. And so we need to give it as well as receive it, because we’re all in the same boat! There’s no reason to let either pride or guilt stand in the way. Forgiveness is just too important to our prayer life!

    So let me close with a question and a challenge this morning. The question is, how important is it to you to have an effective prayer life? Important enough to do whatever it take to have one? If so, then comes the challenge.

    I want to challenge you to wrestle with grace. Wrestle with the concept of being offered, and offering, forgiveness … even when it’s undeserved. You see friends, mercy is a gift, not a reward. Forgiveness is offered not earned.

    So maybe it’s time we set aside our pride and willingly acknowledge our need: Our need to offer forgiveness to others … as well as to receive it for ourselves. Because it’s only in that realization that it will ever flow freely into and out of our lives.

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